Society

Bardsey Island - Britain's Island Of Graves

This Welsh Island is best known for its thousands of burial sites, and its current population can be counted on one hand.

5. Description

The Bardsey Island is a quaint and peaceful island, encompassing an area of 179 hectares, located 3.1 kilometers away from the Llŷn Peninsula, Gwynedd County, Wales, United Kingdom. The island has a long and rich spiritual, religious and cultural history that has attracted thousands of pilgrims and tourists to the island since ages as well as inspired writers, poets and singers to produce work that is influenced by the story and beauty of the island. The island has a population of only around four permanent members and lacks roads, running water facilities, cars or electric grids. Another unique feature of the island is what lies underneath its soil. In the ancient times some of holiest saints of Christianity were buried on the island and nearly 20,000 such graves populate the island at such a high density that digging anywhere on the island is bound to turn up a human grave.

4. Historical Role

The Bardsey Island was inhabited since the Neolithic times as evident from archaeological evidence belonging to this period being discovered here. In the 5th Century, the island became a refuge for the Christians seeking shelter from mass persecutions elsewhere. Soon the island became a center point for priestly gatherings and Christian saints from all parts of England arrived on the island. The St Mary's Abbey was set up here and many saintly congregations were held at the island. The island was also used to bury many of the great holy men and martyrs of Christianity after their death. Some even believe that the legendary British leader, King Arthur was also buried in this island. The island soon became a famous pilgrimage site and it was claimed that visiting the Bardsey Island thrice was equivalent to visiting Rome. The island came to be popularly known as the "Rome of England". However, in 1536, in obedience to the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act, on the orders of Henry VIII, the St Mary's Abbey was shut down and the monks left the island. The population of the island also gradually declined over the years from 132 in 1881 to 17 in 1961 to only 4 in 2003.

3. Modern Significance

Presently, the Bardsey Island serves as a famous tourist spot in Wales where visitors arrive to observe the spectacular natural scenery and the unique wildlife of the island. Undisturbed by human intervention, many rare species of plants and animals survive on the island in their pristine wild habitat. The waters around the island also have a plethora of aquatic life and the island serves as an important resting stop for a diversity of migratory birds. A bird observatory, established here in 1953, is active to this day where scientists attempt to study the interesting behavior and migratory patterns of the birds visiting the island. Besides its natural importance, the fact that the island has been associated with saints, spirituality, and religion, also reserves a special for the island in the cultural life of Wales.

2. Habitat and Biodiversity

The Bardsey Island hosts a large number of rare and unique species of flora and fauna, leading to its recognition as a National Nature Reserve in 1986. Several varieties of lichens including rare species like the golden hair lichen and ciliate strap lichen grow here on the island. Migratory birds like warblers, spotted flycatchers, and chiff-chaffs visit the island every year while other resident birds like owls, ravens, and choughs nest on the island. Several species of seabirds are also found on this island and the absence of natural predators of birds on this island render the island a paradise for these avians. Several species of aquatic fauna are found in the sea water around the island like Bottlenose dolphins, porpoises and Risso’s dolphins. Smaller animal species found in the tidal zones and shallower waters include species of crabs, lobsters, and sea anemones. Grey seals can often be noticed sunbathing on the sandy shores of the island.

1. Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes

Bardsey Island is currently connected to the mainland by ferry services. However, if weather conditions are harsh and the sea is choppy, the ferry services are often stopped, cutting off the island completely from the rest of the civilization. In 2000, 17 visitors to the island were stranded on the island for several weeks due to adverse weather conditions making all rescue efforts fail. The island is also threatened by the predicted rise in sea water levels due to global warming. The possibility of an increase in the tourist footfall on the island in the future also threatens its pristine natural habitat from being polluted and damaged by tourism, if not managed in a responsible manner.

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